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Man's Being, His Destiny and World Evolution
GA 226

1. On the Nature and Destiny of Man and World

16 May 1923, Oslo

In the course of this short cycle, I should like to set forth several things connected in the most intensive way with the being of man, the formation of man's destiny, and what might be called the relationship of man in his entirety to world-evolution. I shall proceed immediately to the center of this matter by pointing out that the whole evolution of man's being, within the realm of earth-life, is connected not only with what we observe with our ordinary, waking consciousness while participating in earth-life, but is also connected closely and intensively with what takes place during sleep, from the time of falling asleep until awaking.

Doubtless external earthly culture, external earthly civilization derives its significance primarily from that which man is able to think, feel and accomplish out of his waking being. Man, however, would be utterly powerless, in an external sense, unless his human forces were continuously renewed, in the period between falling asleep and awaking, by contact with the spiritual world. Our spirit and soul being or, as we usually call it in Anthroposophy, our astral body and our ego, withdraw from the physical and etheric body when man falls asleep; they enter the spiritual world, penetrating the physical and etheric body again only after our awaking. Thus, if leading a normal life, we spend one third of our earthly existence in the sleeping state.

If we look back on our earth-life, we always join day to day; we leave out of this conscious retrospect all that we experience between falling asleep and awaking. We skip, as it were, all the things contributed by the heavenly realms, by the divine worlds to our earth-life. And we take into account only what is given us by earthly experiences. Yet, if we desire to attain correct conceptions of our experiences between falling asleep and awaking, we should not spurn ideas which diverge from those of ordinary life. It would be naive to assume that the same things occur in the divine-spiritual worlds that are occurring in the physical-sensible worlds wherein we dwell between awaking and falling asleep. For, on falling asleep, we return to the spiritual worlds — and here things are quite different from things in the physical-sensible world. All this must be taken into account most decidedly by anyone wishing to form a conception of man's super-sensible destinies.

In mankind's religious records, we find many strange allusions which can be understood only if penetrated by means of spiritual science. Thus a passage occurs in the Bible which, although known to everybody, is generally too little regarded: unless ye become as little children, ye may not enter the kingdom of God.

Often such passages are interpreted most trivially; nonetheless, they are always intended to convey an extraordinarily deep meaning.

The knowledge from which is drawn a conception of the spiritual-super-sensible has often been called by me, as well as by others, the Science of Initiation. We speak of this science of initiation when we look back at what went on in mankind's ancient Mysteries. Yet we also speak of the science of initiation — modern science of initiation — if we wish to characterize Anthroposophy in its deeper aspects.

Science of initiation points, as it were, to the knowledge of primeval conditions, of original conditions. We seek to acquire knowledge concerning that which existed in the beginning, which marked the starting-point. All these endeavors are connected with a matter of yet greater profundity which presently will be envisaged by our souls.

If we have fallen asleep on May sixteenth, nineteen twenty-three, and have slept until May seventeenth, nineteen twenty-three, we assume that this time has been spent by us in the same way as by a person who happens to stay awake and roam all night long through the streets of some city. We somehow picture to ourselves the experiences of our spirit and soul (ego and astral body) during the night as though similar to the experiences — although in a somewhat different state — of a reveler seeking nightly adventures.

Things, however, are not as they seem to us. One must consider that on falling asleep in the evening, or even in the daytime (it really does not matter when; but I want first to discuss the nightly sleep enjoyed by every respectable person), one invariably goes back in time until a phase of life is reached lying at the very beginning of one's earthly existence. Moreover, one goes back even beyond one's earthly existence: to pre-earthly life; to that world from which we descended after acquiring a physical body by means of conception. At the moment of falling asleep, we are transported backward through the whole course of time. We are brought back to that moment when we descended from the heavenly realms to earth. Hence, if we fall asleep, for instance, on May sixteenth, nineteen twenty-three, we are transplanted from this date to that period which preceded our descent to earth; and also to that time which we cannot remember, because our memory stops at a certain point of our childhood. Each night, if we pass through it in real sleep, we actually become children again with regard to spirit and soul. And just as we can walk, in the physical world, for two or three miles through space, so a person can walk, at the age of twenty, through time for a span of twenty years, thus arriving at a stage before he was a child — when he began to be a human being. We return, across time, to the starting-point of our earth-life. Hence, while the physical and etheric body are lying in bed, the ego and astral body have gone back across time to an earlier moment. Now the question arises: if we go back every night to an earlier moment, what happens to our ego and astral body while we are awake?

We would not ask such a question unless being aware of this nightly going backward. And, at bottom, even this going backward is only an illusion. In reality, our ego and astral body have not emerged, even during our waking day-time consciousness, from the state in which we existed during our pre-earthly existence.

If we desire to recognize the truth about these facts, we must grasp the idea that ego and astral body have, initially, no share in our earthly evolution. They remain behind; they stop at the point where we began to acquire a physical and an etheric body. We thus, even when waking, leave our ego and astral body at the point marking the beginning of our earth-life.

Fundamentally, we live our earth-life only with the physical body and, in a certain way, with the etheric body. Our physical body alone becomes old. As for the etheric body, it connects our beginning with that moment at which we happen to stand during a certain period.

Let us suppose that someone was born in nineteen hundred. His ego and astral body have come to a standstill at the moment of his birth. The physical body has reached the age of twenty-three; and the etheric body connects the moment at which this person entered earth-life with the moment experienced by him as the present one. Hence, if we did not possess an etheric body, we would awaken every morning as a newborn babe. Only by entering the etheric body before entering the physical body do we accommodate ourselves to the physical body's actual age. This accommodation must take place every morning. The etheric body is the mediator between the spirit-soul element and the physical body. It is a mediator forming the connecting link across the years of life. If a man reaches sixty or more years of life, the etheric body still forms the link between his very first appearance on earth — the point at which his ego and astral body have remained — and the age of his physical body.

Now you will say: Well, after all, the ego is ours; it has aged with us; so also has our astral body aged with us, our thinking, feeling, and willing. If someone has become sixty, then his ego, too, has become sixty.

This would be quite correct if our everyday ego and our true, our real ego were identical. Our everyday ego, however, is not the same as our real ego; that remains standing at the starting-point of our earth-life. Our physical body reaches, let us say, the age of sixty. By means of the mediation of the etheric body, the physical body reflects — corresponding to the respective moment at which it is living — the mirrored image of the real ego. And what we see is the mirrored image of the real ego reflected back to us, from moment to moment, by the physical body; but resulting from something that has not accompanied us into earth-life. This mirrored image we call our ego. This mirrored image will naturally grow older as the reflecting apparatus, the physical body, gradually loses the freshness of early childhood and finally becomes wobbly and unstable. Yet this “ego,” which is only the mirrored image of the real ego, appears to age for the sole reason that the reflecting apparatus functions less efficiently after the physical body has grown old.

Like a perspective, the etheric body stretches from the present moment to the real ego and astral body, both of which do not descend into the physical world.

You can imagine that these facts shaping human earth-life must acquire especial significance at the moment of human death. The physical body is the first that we discard in death. This body, however, is the one that determines our earthly age. In discarding this body, what do we retain? Primarily, that which we have not carried with us into earth-life, but which we have filled with all the experiences of earth-life: the ego and astral body. They have, as it were, stood still at the starting-point. Yet they have always looked at that which the physical body, helped by the etheric body, has reflected back as a mirrored image.

Thus, in passing through the portal of death, we stand at our life's starting-point; not filled, however, with what we carried within us when descending from the spiritual world, but filled with what was reflected back to us during earth-life as the mirrored image of this earth-life. With that we are filled to the brim. And this fact engenders an especial state of consciousness at the end of earth-life.

This especial state of consciousness at the end of earth-life can be comprehended only by someone who, endowed with imaginative, inspired, and intuitive knowledge, is able to see that which generally remains unconscious, that which man experiences between falling asleep and awaking. Then one recognizes how man, during every night, retraces the life of the past day. One person does it faster, another slower — in one minute or five minutes. Concerning these things, however, time-conditions are entirely different from those of ordinary, outward earth-life. If we are gifted with super-sensible knowledge, we may take a look at what is experienced by the ego and the astral body. You may then actually, by going backward, recapitulate what you have experienced in the physical world since waking up in the morning. Every night we repeat the experiences of the day in reverse order. Every night we first recapitulate the experiences we had just before going to sleep; then the preceding hours; then those lying back still further, and so forth. Having passed in review, in reverse order, all the day's events, we usually awaken after arriving at the moment when we started in the morning.

You might make the following objection: But people are sometimes awakened by a sudden noise. You must consider, however, that time may elapse in different ways. For instance, someone goes to bed at eleven in the evening, sleeps quietly until three in the morning and, having recapitulated in reverse order all that he experienced during the past day up until ten in the morning, is roused by a sudden disturbance. In such a case, the rest of the time can be retraced very rapidly in the last few moments before waking. Thus events that have stretched themselves out over several hours may, in such a case, be passed through again almost instantly. The conditions of time change in the sleeping state. Time may be completely compressed. Hence we may truthfully say that the human being, during every period of sleep, passes through in reverse what he has experienced during his last waking period. He recapitulates the events not only by seeing them before him, but also by interweaving his experiences with a complete moral judgment of what he did during the day. The human being, as it were, is summoned to judge his own state of morality. And when, on awaking, we have finished this activity, we have passed something like a world judgment on our worth as human beings. Every morning, having experienced in reverse what we did during the day, we appraise ourselves as a being of greater or lesser worth.

This description conveys to you what man's spirit and soul element undergoes, unconsciously, during every night; that is, during one third of our earth-life (if spent in a normal way). The soul passes through life in reverse; only somewhat faster, because merely one third of our earth-life is taken up by sleep.

After our physical body has been discarded in death, the part called by me in my writings etheric body, or formative-force body, gradually separates itself from the ego and the astral body.

This separation takes place in such manner that the human being, having passed through the portal of death, feels his thoughts, heretofore considered by him as something inward, becoming realities which acquire ever greater expansion. Two, three or four days after his death man has this feeling: Fundamentally, I consist of nothing but thoughts. These thoughts, however, are driven asunder. The human being, as a thought-being, takes on ever greater dimensions; and finally this whole human thought-being is dissolved into the cosmos. But the more this thought-being (that is, the etheric body) is dissolved into the cosmos, the more arise experiences derived from other sources than ordinary consciousness.

Essentially, all that we have thought and visualized in the waking state is scattered three days after death. This fact cannot be evaded by hiding our heads in the sand. The content of conscious earth-life has vanished three days after death. But just because the things seemingly so important, so essential during earth-life are dissipated within three days, there arise from the depth memories of that which could not come forth until now: memories of what we always experienced at night, in a preliminary way, between falling asleep and awaking. As the waking life of the day is scattered, dissipated, our inward depth sends forth the sum of experiences undergone by us during the night. These are none other than our day-time experiences, but passed through in reverse order and acquired, in every detail, by means of our moral sense.

You must remember that our real ego and our real astral body are still standing at life's beginning; whereas the mirrored images that we have received from the physical body, regardless of its age, now flutter away with the etheric body. What we have not looked at in the least during earth-life, our nightly experiences, now come forth as a new content. Therefore we do not really feel as if our earth-life were ended, until three days have passed and brought about the scattering of our etheric body. If someone dies, let us say, on May sixteenth, nineteen twenty-three, he seems to be carried to the end of his earth-life by the arising, from nocturnal darkness, of his nightly experiences. At the same time, he is seized by the tendency to go backward.

Hence we pass again through the period spent by us, night in, night out, in the state of sleep. This amounts to about one third of our earth-life.

The different religions describe this stage of existence as Purgatory, Kamaloka, and so forth. We pass through our earth-life, just as we passed through it unconsciously in successive nights, until our experiences have gone back to its very beginning. The wheel of life, ever rotating, must again return to its starting-point. Such is the course of events. Three days after death our day-time experiences have fluttered away. One third of our earth-life has been passed through in reverse; a period during which we can evaluate, in full consciousness, our human worth. For what we have passed through every night unconsciously, rises into full consciousness once the etheric body has been discarded.

In ordinary life, we can conceive only of paths leading through space. Space, however, has no significance for the spirit and soul element; it is significant only for the physical-sensible. When reaching the spirit and soul state, we must also conceive of paths leading through time. After death, we must go backward across the whole span of time traversed by our physical body since breaking away — as might be said — from the heavenly realms. Actually we go back thrice as fast, because the time is balanced through the experiences undergone by us every night. Thus we return anew to the starting-point; but enriched by all that we experienced as physical beings. Enriched not only by what remains as a memory — for what flew away with the etheric body still remains as a memory — but also by the judgment passed unconsciously each night, out of our full human nature, on our worth as human beings.

Thus, depending on the kind of life lived by us, we sooner or later enter again (approximately after several decades) into the spiritual world whence we had departed — but departed only inasmuch as our consciousness was concerned. Actually, we have stood still at the starting-point, waiting until the physical body's earthly course would have been fulfilled, so that we might return again to what we were before birth, respectively before conception.

In describing these things, especially in public, we must beware lest people be shocked by such unusual concepts. Speaking metaphorically, it could be said that we advance after death. In reality, however, we retrace our steps after death; we live our life in reverse. Time, as it rotates, returns to its starting-point. The following might be said: the divine world remains where it stood at the beginning. Man but bursts out, wanders out of the divine world. Then he comes back to it, bringing with him all that he conquered while dwelling outside of the divine realms.

Then, in its turn, comes life. After returning once more to the spiritual world, enriched not only by conscious but also by unconscious earth-life; after “becoming as little children” who stand again within the heavenly realms, we pass into a kind of life that might be described in this way: now the human being beholds what he really is. Just as he perceived, with his ordinary consciousness, the plants, stones, and animals among whom he dwelt on earth, so he now perceives his new surroundings. What I am describing is the life after death. Here man sees himself surrounded by human souls who, having died or not yet having been born, undergo no earthly experiences, but those of the divine world. Moreover, he perceives the higher Hierarchies, such as the Angels, the Archangels, the Exusiai, and others still higher. You know these names and their significance from my Occult Science.

The human being gathers experiences in this purely spiritual world. I could characterize these experiences by saying: it is as if the human being were carrying his own being into the cosmos. What he experienced during the waking earth-life, during the nightly unconscious earth-life, he now carries into the cosmos. It is needed by the cosmos.

While standing amidst earth-life, we judge the whole surrounding cosmos, sun, moon, and stars, only from a terrestrial viewpoint. As astronomers, we calculate the movement of the sun, of the planets, the latter's' relationship to the fixed stars, and so forth. This entire astronomical-scientific method, however, could be compared to the following procedure: suppose, that a man stood here and a tiny being — for instance, a ladybug — observed him. Then this tiny creature would found a science. An “Association of Ladybugs for the Study of Mankind” would observe how man comes to life. (I presume that ladybugs, too, have a certain life-span.) This association would observe what happened to man; would investigate all the phenomena backwards and forwards. One thing, however, would be ignored: that the human being eats and drinks, thus renewing his physical being again and again. The ladybugs would believe that man is born, grows by himself, and dies by himself. They would not be able to recognize that man's metabolism must be renewed from day to day.

As an astronomer the human being behaves somewhat similarly in regard to the world. He pays no attention to the fact that the world is a gigantic organism which needs nourishment, otherwise would the stars long ago be scattered in all the directions of universal space and the planets would have deserted their orbits. This gigantic organism, in order to live, needs a kind of nourishment that must be received again and again. Whence comes this nourishment?

Here we encounter the great questions concerning man's relationship to the universe. It is simply stupendous how much physical science can prove. Only, somehow or other, these proofs have little meaning. People, who have been told that Anthroposophy contradicts ordinary science in many things, are inclined to believe that this ordinary science can prove anything in the world. This is true and not denied by Anthroposophy. Science can prove anything in the world. Only things happen to be constituted in such a way that, in certain cases, these proofs have nothing to do with reality.

Let us suppose that I could calculate how the physical structure of the human heart changes from one year to the next. Then we might say: a man of thirty-three will have such and such a heart structure; at thirty-four he will have a certain heart structure; at thirty-five he will have still another heart structure, and so forth. Having made these observations over a period of five years, I calculate how the heart structure of this man was constituted let us say thirty years ago. This can be done. Now the whole physical structure of the heart lies before me. I can also calculate how it was constituted three hundred years ago. Here, however, arises a slight difficulty: three hundred years ago this heart did not exist and could, therefore, have had no physical structure of any kind. The calculation was absolutely correct. We can prove that the heart was constituted three hundred years ago in such and such a way, only it did not exist. We can also prove that the heart will be constituted three hundred years later in such and such a way, only then it will have ceased to exist. But the proofs are completely infallible.

Geology can be handled today in the same manner. We can calculate that a certain layer of the soil indicates this or that fact. Likewise, we calculate how everything was twenty millions of years ago, or will be twenty millions of years later. The proof clicks with marvelous accuracy: only the earth did not exist twenty millions of years ago. It is the same as with the heart. Neither is the earth going to exist twenty millions of years later. The proofs are flawless, but have nothing whatever to do with reality. This is how things actually are. The possibilities of being deceived by physical life are immeasurably great. We must be able to penetrate spiritual life if we desire to gain a standpoint from which the physical world can be judged.

And now let us go back to that which was to be elucidated by this digression concerning proofs that have no point of contact with reality. Let us go back to the moment after death, as I characterized it, and observe how the human being adjusts his life to the world of spiritual facts, spiritual beings. He brings into this spiritual world what he has experienced on earth while waking and sleeping.

Just consider that these experiences are the nourishment of the cosmos; that they are continuously needed by the cosmos in order to live on. Whatever we experience on earth in the course of an easy or hard life is carried by us into the cosmos after death. We thus feel how our being as man is dissolved into the cosmos to furnish its nourishment. These experiences, undergone by man between death and a new birth, are of overwhelming grandeur, of immeasurable loftiness.

Then comes the moment when man appears to himself no longer as a unity, but as a multiplicity. He appears to himself as if some of his virtues and qualities moved, as it were, towards one star; others towards a different star. Now man perceives how his being is scattered out into the whole world. He also perceives how the parts of his being fight with one another, harmonize with one another, disharmonize with one another. Man feels how that which he experienced on earth by day or by night is scattered into the cosmos. And just as we held fast to our nightly experiences when, three days after death, our thoughts — that is, the essence of our waking life — dissipated out into the cosmos and we, concentrating on our nightly experiences, lived again over, but backward, our whole earth-life until the starting-point of our earth-life is reached; so now, when our entire earthly human experience is scattered out into the cosmos, we hold fast to that which we represent as human beings belonging to a super-sensible world order.

Now our real ego emerges from what might be called the Dionysically disjointed human being. Gradually there emerges the consciousness: You are nothing but spirit. You have only dwelt in a physical body; have only passed through — even in the nightly experiences — the events brought upon you by the physical body. You are a spirit among spirits.

Now we enter a spiritual existence among spiritual beings; whereas our substance as physical man is scattered and dissolved into the cosmos. What we passed through here on earth is divided and given to the cosmos: so that it might nourish the cosmos and enable it to live on; so that the cosmos might receive new incentives for the movement of its stars, the sustenance of its stars. As we must partake of physical nourishment in order to live as physical men between birth and death, so must the cosmos partake of human experiences, take them into itself. Thus we feel ourselves more and more as cosmic men; find our whole being transfused, as it were, into the cosmos — but a cosmos taken in a spiritual sense. And then the moment approaches when we must seek the transition from death to a new birth; from man become cosmos to cosmos become man. We have ascended by identifying ourselves more and more with the cosmos. A moment comes — I have called it in my Mystery Plays the Great Midnight Hour of Existence — which brings to us this feeling: We must again become human beings. What we carried into the cosmos must be returned to us by the cosmos, so that we may come back to earth.

Today it was my foremost purpose to describe man's being, as it is carried out of earth-life into the vast cosmic space. Thus this sketch — which will be enlarged upon during the coming days — has placed us into the center of life between death and a new birth.